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How Close Is bin Laden to Acquiring Nuclear Weaons? - 2001-11-16

More questions are being raised about how close Osama bin Laden may be to acquiring a nuclear weapon after instructions about how to build a nuclear bomb were reportedly found at an abandoned Al-Qaida safehouse in Kabul.

The issue that has long been a top concern to the United States.

Among the material said to be found at abandoned Al-Qaida safehouses was a booklet described as a guide to surviving a nuclear explosion. In addition to uncovering detailed designs for nuclear weapons and missiles, U.S. military officials say they are checking into what the "The Times" of London newspaper reports are documents describing the process for detonating a nuclear bomb.

All of this reportedly uncovered just days after Osama Bin Laden told a Pakistani journalist he would use nuclear or chemical weapons if the United States attacked Afghanistan with them.

U.S. officials say they have long believed the chief suspect in the September 11th terror attacks has been trying to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Terrorism expert Peter Bergen, author of the book "Holy War" thinks it would be naďve to assume the Al-Qaida leader does not already have them, given that he already has the money and the motive.

But others point out that it's extremely difficult to build and launch a nuclear warhead. "Gathering manuals and various instructions is one thing. Actually proceeding down the road of trying to build a nuclear device is very, very different," he said.

Still, David Kyd of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna thinks the events of September 11th have left little doubt that Al-Qaida may already be working on it. "We know also that they [Al-Qaida] have money. So we don't at all dismiss the possibility that they have made progress in the nuclear area. However, we repeat that it is very, very difficult to construct a true nuclear device. It is substantially easier to construct a radioactive device that would have less severe consequences but which would still achieve a terrorist aim of spreading panic and contaminating perhaps a high value facility.

Following the chilling discovery at what had been an Al-Qaida stronghold, Pentagon officials say U.S. special forces in Afghanistan are now searching areas once held by the Taleban for any evidence of weapons of mass destruction.